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Old Posted Aug 27, 2022, 7:41 PM
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Michigan History

I like history and architecture and Michigan, so I figured why not start a thread that could be a catch-all for all of that (basically, interesting stuff that is not current development, but still worth a look, across the state). Michigan has a rich heritage of people and places that have influenced the way people live and perceive their surroundings.

If there's something you want to share, feel free to add to this thread. If it's historic, interesting, somehow related to the built environment, and located in Michigan, it's game! It can be something that is existing, threatened, or long-vanished. Images are appreciated (your own, or found & properly cited), but not required.

The below indexes contain links to specific posts within this thread. They will continue to grow as the thread grows and new topics are added. There are three indexes, with posts in each one organized (a) by location, (b) by category of historic significance, and (c) by architect / engineer (if known / applicable).

Index of Posts, Organized by Location

Code:
Allegan County

Saugatuck
Saugatuck Gap Filler Annex Radar: Post #8

Clinton County

Bath Township
Bath School Disaster:Post #7 

Grand Traverse County

Traverse City
Northern Michigan Asylum / Grand Traverse Commons: Post #4

Kalamazoo County

Cooper Township
Kalamazoo Nature Center: Post #2

Oscoda County

Mio 
Oscoda County Courthouse / Office Building: Post #6

Oakland County

Troy
S.S. Kresge Co. / Kmart Corporation World Headquarters: Post #9

Ottawa County

Grand Haven
Grand Haven Musical Fountain: Post #3
Index of Posts, Organized by Category of Historic Significance

Code:
Architectural
Kalamazoo Nature Center: Post #2
Northern Michigan Asylum / Grand Traverse Commons: Post #4
S.S. Kresge Co. / Kmart Corporation World Headquarters: Post #9

Disaster
Bath School Disaster:Post #7 
Oscoda County Courthouse / Office Building: Post #6

Unique Oddities
Grand Haven Musical Fountain: Post #3

Wartime
Saugatuck Gap Filler Annex Radar: Post #8
Index of Posts, Organized by Architect / Engineer

Code:
Alden B. Dow
Kalamazoo Nature Center: Post #2

Gordon W. Lloyd
Northern Michigan Asylum / Grand Traverse Commons: Post #4

Pratt and Koeppe
Oscoda County Courthouse / Office Building: Post #6

Smith, Hinchman & Grylls (SmithGroup)
S.S. Kresge Co. / Kmart Corporation World Headquarters: Post #9

William Morris Booth II
Grand Haven Musical Fountain: Post #3

NA / Unknown
Bath School Disaster:Post #7
Saugatuck Gap Filler Annex Radar: Post #8
Ideas / Running To-Do List (non-exhaustive, just as I think of things so I don't forget)
  • Amboy, Lansing and Traverse Bay Railroad (existing depots remain in Laingsburg, Lansing, & Owosso)
  • At least one thing per county
  • Durand / Union Station
  • Second Arenac County Courthouse (note similarities to Oscoda County Courthouse that burned down)
  • Michigan Central Railroad
  • Old / historic train depots & routes, in general
  • West Michigan Pike (original highway)

Last edited by deja vu; Feb 26, 2024 at 8:43 PM. Reason: updating indexes
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Old Posted Aug 27, 2022, 7:42 PM
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Cooper Township - Kalamazoo Nature Center

I'll kick this off with our visit to the Kalamazoo Nature Center this morning. The Nature Center is located in Cooper Township, just a short drive north of Kalamazoo. It was the first visit for me, despite living here 7+ years. At the center of the grounds is a mid-century visitors center designed by Alden B. Dow, built in 1964. I'm sure Alden's name & work will come up a lot on this thread, as he was one of the most influential modern architects in Michigan.

The building is very unique, but showing its age, and the Nature Center has been chipping away at necessary upgrades over the past few years. One of the more notable upgrades that is wrapping up right now is the removal & replacement of the original glass dome that covers a central atrium. The new dome will provide energy savings as well as a built-in deterrent for bird collisions. The atrium is the focal point of the building, and it contains live plants and a winding ramp that connects the two levels of the facility. There are rotating displays and live animals both inside and outside of the building.

The original dome was hoisted away by crane this spring (video below). The new dome is now in-place, and they are wrapping up work on the surrounding roof to make everything weathertight. The entire thing is very cool, nested into the surrounding landscape and accessed by a long covered bridge that carries you through the wooded area. We will definitely be back!

Video Link


All of the photos below were taken by me today -

1. The entry / approach to the bridge -


2. The bridge from the side, seen through the trees -


3. Date marker -


4. Bridge roof detail -


5. The bridge -


6. Timeline -


7 - 11. Interior of the atrium. You can see the temporary plastic wrap through the glass roof of the new dome -


8.


9.


10.


11.


12 - 18. Exterior views -


13.


14.


15.


16.


17.


18.


19 - 20. Interior views -


20.

Source: My own photos

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 3:01 AM. Reason: updating / adding photos
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Old Posted Aug 27, 2022, 10:14 PM
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Grand Haven - Musical Fountain

Everyone knows about the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas, but have you heard of the Grand Haven Musical Fountain? This football-sized fountain turns 60 this year. Indeed, it was the largest fountain of its kind in the world until superseded by the one at the Bellagio, more than 35 years after it first opened. Inspired by a miniature display that a former Grand Haven mayor witnessed in Europe while serving in the Navy in the 1950s, the full-size version was constructed by volunteers for $50,000 in 1962. The attraction features lights and fanciful fountain displays, set to everything from Led Zeppelin to Frozen. It is situated on the west bank of the Grand River, directly across from downtown and a new amphitheater.

To celebrate its 60th anniversary, a new feature debuts today, August 27, in just a few hours, at 9pm local time. Tonight's show was developed and programmed with the help of students from Grand Valley State University’s School of Engineering and Computing. Read more at the article linked below -

Quote:
Grand Haven Musical Fountain celebrates 60th anniversary
Paul R. Kopenkoskey | The Lakeshore
August 22, 2022
If I find a recording of tonight's show, I'll post it when available. For now, here's a compilation from a few years ago. Can you imagine being in Grand Haven on any summer evening, having no idea this thing exists, and then all of a sudden it starts up in the distance?

Video Link


EDIT: I think this is the show from the 60th anniversary celebration -

Video Link


Under construction -


1960s -


Present-day Machinery Room -


Modern fountain in action -

Source: The Lakeshore | Courtesy Images

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 3:01 AM.
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Old Posted Sep 4, 2022, 1:10 PM
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Traverse City - Northern Michigan Asylum / Grand Traverse Common

Anyone on here who has been to Traverse City and visited "The Village at Grand Traverse Commons" likely understands that it is one of the best-preserved & repurposed Kirkbride-plan hospitals left standing in the country. The complex started as the Northern Michigan Asylum in the 1880s and was eventually renamed the Traverse City State Hospital. It grew through the decades until ultimately closing in 1889. It was repurposed after that, and today it serves as a sprawling mixed-use destination for shops, restaurants, and residences -

You can read a lot more on its history at any number of sites, some which are sourced below. Here's just a few images -

Historic image of the asylum -

Source: restless-viking.com | Traverse City Historical Society

The main building, before renovations began -

Source: Awesome Mitten

Northern Michigan Asylum Baseball Team -

Source: restless-viking.com | Traverse City Historical Society

The primary tunnel that connected multiple buildings -

Source: Atlas Obscura

Contemporary aerial views -




Before / after of the basement shops in building 50 -


Before / after of a restaurant space -


Before / after of a residential unit -

Source: The Holland Sentinel

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 3:00 AM.
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  #5  
Old Posted Sep 4, 2022, 4:59 PM
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I visit Grand Traverse commons every couple of years. I’m impressed how much was added recently at the back of the property. It’s always busy there all times of the year. It’s probably one of the greatest historic preservation victories in Michigan. It was nearly slated for demolition in the 90’s. Not only did they beautifully renovate the 19th century structures, but the mid-century 1950’s stuff got incredible facelifts with a modern industrial loft vibe.
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Old Posted Feb 12, 2023, 4:54 PM
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Mio - Oscoda County Courthouse / Office Building

Dusting this thread off... Today's journey takes us to a place in Michigan that I've barely heard of...

Even though it is unincorporated and boasts just 1,700 residents, Mio is the county seat of Oscoda County. As such, it is home to the Oscoda County Courthouse. The original wood-framed courthouse was built in 1888, shortly after Mio won the county seat. Sadly, this historic structure suffered a devastating fire on May 4, 2016, after nearly 130 years of serving the public in various capacities (most recently as county offices). It was unfortunately too damaged to be saved, though a lot of the records within were salvaged. At the time of the fire, this building was the oldest wood-framed courthouse still in use in the entire state.

A replacement courthouse was erected in the same place as the original, opening in February 2020. Its design clearly references the original building -

The original courthouse, c. 1900 -

Source: Oscoda County, MI

A contemporary view, sometime before the fire, when it served as county offices -

Source: courthouses.co

The destructive fire, May 4, 2016 -

Source: Flickr | Oscoda Herald


Source: Oscoda County

Cleanup efforts underway, the day after the fire -

Source: Twitter | Charles Lapastora

Rendering of the replacement county office building. Note the similarities to the original, especially at the entrance -

Source: Oscoda County

The completed exterior of the new building, February 2020. An admirable effort to honor the historic building -

Source: Oscoda County

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 3:00 AM.
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Old Posted Feb 18, 2023, 6:33 PM
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Bath Township - Bath School Disaster

The recent tragic school shooting news out of East Lansing had me thinking about another tragedy, much further in the past, that shattered a small community just a few miles north of where some MSU students were needlessly gunned down a few days ago...

Almost 96 years ago, the worst mass killing event ever to occur in the United States befell the small farming community of Bath Township. Known as the Bath School Disaster (or sometimes the Bath School Massacre, which I'd argue is a more accurate, albeit gruesome, label), the deliberately planned actions of one disturbed individual resulted in the deaths of 38 schoolchildren and 6 adults, including the school superintendent, the local postmaster, and the perpetrator's wife. To this day, almost a century later, it is still the worst mass killing event at a school in this country. And many have never even heard of it.

Do others here know about this tragic, almost unbelievable event? Even growing up in Michigan, I only learned about it a few years ago. I think it has largely been forgotten outside of the immediate vicinity where it occurred, perhaps due to a variety of contributing factors. One popular theory is that this story fell into relative obscurity because Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight grabbed the headlines, and the nation's attention, just three days after this happened.

Unlike the mass shootings we have sadly grown accustomed to (or dare I say immune to) these days, Andrew Kehoe's weapon of choice was roughly 900 pounds of pyrotol and dynamite, which he strategically acquired over the better part of a year. In the years after World War 1, this wasn't that uncommon of a practice; the US Government willingly sold these explosives to farmers for legitimate agricultural uses, like blowing up tree stumps to clear more land for tilling.

Kehoe's motivation was spurred by losing a local election for township clerk. But that was just the final straw. He was likely driven towards this insane spiral of events by looming property and medical debts, high taxes, and his wife's suffering health. Many have proposed the Kehoe was the perfect definition of a psychopath. He took every offense suffered as a personal attack / injustice, and he exhibited harshness and cruelty towards both animals and people (he reportedly beat one of his own horses to death and shot a dog that he found to be a nuisance). He was described as strange, distant, and controlling. He had a keen mind for electronics and machines, which was demonstrated in the intricacies of the timed detonating systems that he would use in the attacks.

He placed the explosives that he had acquired all over his property, all over the school, and within his car. In a coordinated series of explosions on the morning of May 18, 1927 (the last day of the school year), he proceeded to first firebomb his property, then blow up the school, and finally detonate the explosives in his car, taking several more lives with his own in the process, and earning him another dubious claim to fame - the world's first suicide car bomber. He murdered his wife before setting his entire farm - outbuildings, crops, and animals included - ablaze, being sure to bind the legs of his horses so that they couldn't escape. His reasoning for this was that he wanted to ensure his wife's family received no inheritance from their farm.

Over 100,00 cars reportedly came to bath by the following day. Many to help, many to gawk. I imagine this was the most cars and humans that have ever been in Bath Township at one time. A new school was built on the site of the destroyed one shortly after. That school was demolished in the 1970s and today the site is a public park with a memorial (location).

There's a lot more to be said here, but there is ample material out there that you can go read up on, so I won't try to regurgitate it all. There is also a docuseries that has been in development for almost 20 years, which reportedly will be released soon (watch that trailer here).

The Bath Schoolhouse, photo taken sometime before the explosion -

Source: Wikipedia

The school, shortly after the bombing. Miraculously, more than 1/2 of the explosives did not detonate. If they had, there would have been far more casualties (likely most, if not all of the 300+ students and staff in the building that day). Even so, the ~ 200 pounds that did detonate took down nearly 50% of the school structure, and dozens of human lives with it -

Source: Detroit Free Press | LSJ Archives

Undetonated explosives, recovered from the school after the bombing -

Source: MLive | Michigan Historical Archives

One of the few published photos of Andrew, seated near his wife -

Source: Daily Telegraph

The Kehoe homestead, on the outskirts of town, prior to the explosion. It was a prominent house -

Source: americanhauntingsink.com

The Kehoe house, after it was destroyed. Nothing remained except for some brick foundations and the chimney. Incredulous citizens look on -

Source: Getty Images


Source: MLive | Michigan Historical Archives

Today, there is just a field where the former homestead was situated. If you look along the north side of Clark Road, just west of the intersection with Watson Rd. and directly across the street from a Township welcome sign, you'll see no sign of the horror that took place a century ago -

Source: MLive | Julie Mack

Kehoe's destroyed car, which he used as a bomb to take his life and several others -

Source: MLive | Michigan Historical Archives

An ominous sign that Kehoe crafted and strung up to a fence on his farm, intentionally left there to be discovered by others after the grizzly events unfolded -

Source: MLive | Michigan Historical Archives

All that is left of the destroyed school is the original cupola, which stands as a stark memorial in the center of James Couzens Memorial Park (scroll back to the top two photos to see it atop the building) -

Source: theclio.com

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 3:00 AM. Reason: updating text
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2023, 7:53 PM
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Saugatuck - Gap Filler Annex Radar

At the top of the 230-ft. high Mount Baldhead sand dune lies the Saugatuck Gap Filler Annex Radar, a mostly-intact cold war relic that has been a community landmark since its construction in the 1950s. The decommissioned, semi-autonomous radar station was part of a network of such installations around the country, designed to help provide detection of a feared Soviet invasion from the north. Among other reasons, this location was chosen to provide strategic protection for Chicago and the heavy industrial lakeshore of northern Indiana.

The Mount Baldhead station was just recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, securing it for future preservation efforts. While the fiberglass "radome" has a unique appearance, what is really special is the technology preserved within it and the small, attached service building, consisting of vacuum-tube circuitry mixed with nascent digital-age tech. and even an early type of modem for relaying information over telephone lines. Of 131 sites like this that were built across the country, only a few remain today, and this is the most technologically "complete' of them all. Pretty cool stuff!


Source: The Lakeshore | Courtesy MI SHPO

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 2:59 AM.
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Old Posted Mar 12, 2023, 7:46 PM
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Troy - S.S. Kresge Co. / Kmart Corporation World Headquarters

For growing up not too far from Troy, and for my first real job being a sales associate at a metro Detroit Kmart, I really knew nothing about the history of their Troy HQ, located at 3100 W Big Beaver Rd.

The building was designed by Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls (now SmithGroup) and built in the late 60's / early 70's. Its tectonics were not uncommon for that era, but the building stand outs due to the sheer scale of execution. The building is comprised of 23 modules, connected by a series of circulatory bridges. Vertical circulation towers punctate the assemblage, and also provide screened rooftop mechanical enclosures that serve the building. Numerous courtyards are created by the arrangement of these nodes. The result of it all was a massive, maze-like facility that some referred to as "the puzzle palace".

Kmart relocated its operations there from Detroit in 1972, and for over 30 years, this was the command center for Kmart's meteoric rise and subsequent fall, all the way through its first bankruptcy in the early 2000's. The company was restructured, ultimately became Sears Holdings Corporation, and relocated from Troy to Hoffman Estates, Illinois in 2004.

The building has sat vacant ever since, with various redevelopment plans going nowhere. It is now most well-known as an urban exploration bucket list item, located just steps away from one of the country's most profitable, high-end malls (Somerset Collection) -

Aerial view of Troy in the early 1970's. The new HQ is visible in the distance. The beginnings of what would become Somerset Collection are in the middle of the image (roughly that same view, today) -

Source: Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections

A closer aerial view. It's clear from this photo (dated 1973) that the HQ was built in multiple phases -

Source: Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections

The exterior, under construction in 1971 -

Source: Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections

An earlier postcard, before the company name changed -

Source: Facebook | Debbie Osman Larson

A postcard view from after the name change (after 1976) -

Source: Facebook | Robin Gillespie Lyman

Exterior, early 1970's -

Source: Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections

Employees referred to the central atrium as "the fishbowl" where numerous corporate parties and events were held over the years -

Source: Twitter | Midwest Modern

1971 - note the model in the foreground, showing the full development -

Source: Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections

One of the exterior monolithic towers -

Source: Wayne State University Libraries Digital Collections

This looks like the cover of an old employee handbook - "Kmart and You" -

Source: Facebook | Debbie Osman Larson

After it was vacated, the complex served as a filming location for the poorly-reviewed 2012 remake of "Red Dawn". Remnants of that, like the massive POLICE sign in the fishbowl, were left behind -

Source: reddit | u/hjc10

It is not in great condition these days (October 2021 photos) -





Source: Facebook | Renee Hopkins Christensen

Drone footage from 2022 -
Video Link


Another short video with some interior footage, from 2017 -
Video Link


Maybe one day I'll do a post about the much older Kresge Headquarters on Cass Ave. in Detroit.

Last edited by deja vu; Mar 14, 2023 at 2:59 AM.
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